A Tale of 2 Nations: Does the Prime Minister’s apology to LGBT people represent a true trend?

By Lynnea Urania Stuart

 

We had long desired to hear words like this.  For Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, at least, they seem demonstrably heart-felt, not just because he said them but because he also took action on behalf of LGBT peoples.  But it will take more than Trudeau to make real change happen in Canada. 

Consider the United States and its longstanding parallel actions with Canada.  The Obama Administration likewise put its best foot forward on behalf of transpeople in its second term.  But with the election of Donald Trump, Evangelical Dominionists have established a clear agenda to reverse all civil rights advances transpeople have secured and return to a policy of ostracism, extermination, and erasure.1

Could we find a similar pattern upcoming in Canada in which apologies and laws become reversed in a similar wave of conservatism?  We may.  The moment we savor now may fade in a reversal of policy in the name of religion much the same way as we found in the Evangelical ascendency in the United States.

 

TRUDEAU ADDRESSES THE POGROMS

Prime Minister Trudeau began his speech to the Canadian Parliament:

 

“One of the greatest choices a person can make in their life is the choice to serve their fellow citizens. Maybe it’s in government, in the military, or in a police force. In whatever capacity one serves, dedicating your life to making Canada—and indeed, the world—a better place is a calling of the highest order.

Now imagine, if you will, being told that the very country you would willingly lay down your life to defend doesn’t want you. Doesn’t accept you. Sees you as defective. Sees you as a threat to our national security. Not because you can’t do the job, or because you lack patriotism or courage—no, because of who you are as a person, and because of who your sexual partners are.

Now imagine, Mr. Speaker, being subjected to laws, policies, and hiring practices that label you as different—as “less than.”

Imagine having to fight for the basic rights that your peers enjoy, over and over again. And imagine being criminalized for being who you are.

This is the truth for many of the Canadians present in the gallery today, and those listening across the country.

This is the devastating story of people who were branded criminals by the government. People who lost their livelihoods, and in some cases, their lives.

These aren’t distant practices of governments long forgotten. This happened systematically, in Canada, with a timeline more recent than any of us would like to admit.

Mr. Speaker, today we acknowledge an often-overlooked part of Canada’s history. Today, we finally talk about Canada’s role in the systemic oppression, criminalization, and violence against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and two-spirit communities.”2

 

These pogroms filled Canadian records during the Cold War era much like they did in the United States for many years.  It began in the 1950’s, a time in which the United States was having enough of the hearing conducted by Senator Joseph McCarthy.  According to Gary Kinsman, a retired Professor of Sociology, a clerk at the Canadian Embassy in Moscow was discovered in 1958 to be homosexual.  He was sent home under the expectation that LGBT peoples would be vulnerable to Soviet blackmail.3

Then the murder of a gay sailor led the Canadian government, with encouragement by U.S. officials, to begin a “gay purge” that continued through the 1960’s and well into the 1990’s, decades after Canada repealed its anti-homosexual laws in 1969.  This was the year of the Stonewall Uprising in New York City, the flash point of the “gay rights” movement.  The Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Military Police conducted surveillance of gay bars in cities throughout Canada and pressured LGBT peoples to identify individual gays and lesbians.  An estimated 9,000 people so identified lost their jobs and security clearances.  Enabling this practice, the RCMP commissioned a psychologist to build what they called a “fruit machine” as a test of sexual orientation.4

 

BROADER SCOPE

When Stonewall hit, another Trudeau served as Prime Minister:  Pierre Elliott Trudeau.  The elder Trudeau hailed from the liberal wing and so acted.  But his service did nothing to reverse Canadian police practices.  In reality, Canadian oppression of LGBT peoples went far beyond the “gay purge” to include racial oppression.

That includes street violence against LGBT peoples, especially transwomen and transpeople “of color.”  Transpeople, most specifically, have been barred from leadership roles.  These arose from attitudes fostered by colonialist policies that also fostered pogroms against indigenous peoples.  The First Nations often held different views with respect to sex and gender than did those more closely associated with the ruling British.  This all fell under a continuing campaign of heteronormativity that never entirely went out of existence.5

Prime Minister Trudeau attempted to address this broader picture:

 

“The very thing Canadian officials feared—blackmail of LGBTQ2 employees—was happening. But it wasn’t at the hands of our adversaries; it was at the hands of our own government.

Mr. Speaker, the number one job of any government is to keep its citizens safe. And on this, we have failed LGBTQ2 people, time and time again.

It is with shame and sorrow and deep regret for the things we have done that I stand here today and say: We were wrong. We apologize. I am sorry. We are sorry.

For state-sponsored, systemic oppression and rejection, we are sorry.

For suppressing two-spirit Indigenous values and beliefs, we are sorry.

For abusing the power of the law, and making criminals of citizens, we are sorry…

To all the LGBTQ2 people across this country who we have harmed in countless ways, we are sorry.

To those who were left broken by a prejudiced system; And to those who took their own lives—we failed you. For stripping you of your dignity; For robbing you of your potential; For treating you like you were dangerous, indecent, and flawed;

We are sorry.

To the victims of the purge, who were surveilled, interrogated, and abused; Who were forced to turn on their friends and colleagues; Who lost wages, lost health, and lost loved ones;

We betrayed you. And we are so sorry.

To those who were fired, to those who resigned, and to those who stayed at a great personal and professional cost; To those who wanted to serve, but never got the chance to because of who you are—you should have been permitted to serve your country, and you were stripped of that option.

We are sorry. We were wrong.”6

 

The Prime Minister didn’t just speak to the recent oppression, but to issues running for centuries before there was ever a Canadian government:

 

Discrimination against LGBTQ2 communities is not a moment in time, but an ongoing, centuries-old campaign.

We want to be a partner and ally to LGBTQ2 Canadians in the years going forward. There are still real struggles facing these communities, including for those who are intersex, queer people of colour, and others who suffer from intersectional discrimination.

Transgender Canadians are subjected to discrimination, violence, and aggression at alarming rates. In fact, trans people didn’t even have explicit protection under federal human rights legislation until this year…

And, Mr. Speaker, I am proud to say that earlier today in this House we tabled the Expungement of Historically Unjust Convictions Act. This will mean that Canadians previously convicted of consensual sexual activity with same-sex partners will have their criminal records permanently destroyed.

Further, I am pleased to announce that over the course of the weekend, we reached an agreement in principle with those involved in the class action lawsuit for actions related to “the purge.”

Never again will our government be the source of so much pain for members of the LGBTQ2 communities.

We promise to consult and work with individuals and communities to right these wrongs and begin to rebuild trust. We will ensure that there are systems in place so that these kinds of hateful practices are a thing of the past. Discrimination and oppression of LGBTQ2 Canadians will not be tolerated anymore.7

 

Prime Minister Trudeau speaks of some genuinely substantial measures.  The Canadian government earmarked 100 million Canadian dollars to settle a class-action lawsuit filed by victims of the “gay purge.”  The Prime Minister also seeks to push through a bill to expunge the records of those criminalized in this pogrom.8

 

THE UNITED STATES BACKTRACKS

Prime Minister Trudeau’s actions are certainly more consistent with those of the latter part of the Obama years.  But the Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015 brought about a major outcry in the Evangelical ranks, most specifically those political parachurch entities seeking establishment of allied Evangelicals as a theocracy. The 2016 drive in anti-transgender legislation arose from this outrage.

About the same time that Prime Minister Trudeau delivered his apology, what did the United States do?  The Senate confirmed Gregory Katsas, legal advisor to Donald Trump, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit with a vote along party lines, 50-48.  The National Center for Transgender Equality blasted this move:

 

 “As deputy white house counsel, Katsas helped draft the White House memo formalizing President Trump’s transgender military ban as well as the president’s Muslim travel ban. Katsas has confirmed that he also advised on numerous administration attacks on LGBTQ people, including the February withdrawal of lifesaving guidance supporting transgender students, an aggressive Justice Department brief arguing federal civil rights laws do not protect LGBTQ people, and a brief in the Supreme Court arguing for a constitutional right to discriminate.”9

 

We can look at these trends in 2 different ways.

One the one hand we may look at Canada in terms of homo-nationalism, positing that this apology demonstrates that Canada is more advanced and civilized than the United States.  But ask the indigenous peoples whether this apology gains their trust any more.  After all, attacks upon 2 Spirit people has long been an attack upon native cultures and complaints of indigenous peoples disappearing and sometimes being found murdered in Canada have not gone away.10

On the other hand, we may look at Canada in terms of the continuing ebb and flow of liberalism in politics.  It’s the same ebb and flow we have experienced in the United States, with sharp differences noted since the last presidential election.  The confirmation of Gregory Katsas isn’t just an issue for the Court of Appeals.  The appointment sets him up to be appointed to the Supreme Court as well.

What that means for Canada is that religious inclinations of Canadian Evangelicals may easily echo those of the U.S. Midwest and South, and their anti-transgender disposition as displayed at local levels, most particularly schools, has yet to rise in its full force at the federal level.11

 

READYING THE NEXT CYCLE

The United States may experience some serious shifts in the electorate, possibly as a result of Trump’s tax plan in which property taxes and mortgages no longer may be deducted.  That’s largely directed against the large states, most notably New York and California.12 We may ask who are more likely to be harmed by such a move.  Will it be the GOP that backs the big corporations or the Democrats who have relied upon union ranks over the years?  More likely it’s the latter.  We may easily see population shifts over the next decade in which left-leaning voters move to what are now largely red states, simply because they must in order  to survive.

Another aspect enters the picture:  those mom and pop small businesses that have heavily supported the GOP since the Reagan era.  If these entrepreneurs find themselves disaffected by the GOP, many will probably not remain Republican.  Some may turn Democrat, many more will probably declare themselves Independent.  If the Democrats gain appeal to this segment, we may see a full reversal of many states from red to blue. 

With such a trend should come another wave of liberal thought, most specifically toward civil rights. The Democrats should sponsor a “Civil Rights Restoration Act” or something to that effect in future years, specifically to reverse the civil rights policies of Donald Trump that facilitate human rights abuses.

Should the United States find itself in that zone, where will we find Canada?  It largely depends upon whether religionist Canadians desire to repeat the U.S. experience.  Some undoubtedly will.  But will most?  That remains to be seen.  But we would be naïve to think that Canadians are altogether as nice as depicted in the satirical film Canadian Bacon.13

If Canada finds itself in a reversal comparable to that of the United States, Prime Minister Trudeau’s apology will be deemed a hollow one.  For indigenous peoples and those LGBT, it may seem like déjà vu.  There may have been a settlement.  Records may have been expunged.  But a new wave of pogroms could easily take hold again despite the Prime Minister’s wishes, simply because Dominionists demand to rule the Dominion of Canada like they demand to rule the United States.

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REFERENCES:

Featured Image: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, official portrait (Wikimedia Commons).

  1. Lynnea Urania Stuart. “The Collapse of Dominionism” Trans Muse Planet (July 22, 2017) https://thetmplanet.com/the-dominionist-collapse-when-transpeople-face-theocracy/.
  2. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, (text of speech delivered to the Canadian Parliament November 28, 2017)
  3. Ian Austen. “Victims of Canada’s ‘Gay Purge’ to Get Apology from Trudeau” New York Times (November 21, 2017, accessed December 2, 2017) https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/21/world/canada/gays-trudeau-apology.html?_r=0.
  4. Ibid.
  5. John Paul Catungal. “Justin Trudeau’s Apology to LGBTQ People Isn’t Enough” US News and World Report (November 28, 2017, accessed December 2, 2017) https://www.usnews.com/news/best-countries/articles/2017-11-28/justin-trudeaus-apology-to-lgbtq-people-isnt-enough
  6. Trudeau (text of speech to the Canadian Parliament November 28, 2017).
  7. Ibid.
  8. “Trudeau apologises for discrimination against LGBT people” BBC (November 28, 2017, accessed December 2, 2017) http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-42157806
  9. Mara Kiesling. “Legal Architect of Anti-Trans Attacks Confirmed to nations Second-Highest Court” NCTE (Press Release November 28, 2017, accessed December 3, 2017) https://transequality.org/press/releases/legal-architect-of-anti-trans-attacks-confirmed-to-nation-s-second-highest-court.
  10. Alan Freeman. “The mystery of 1.000 missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada” Washington Post (August 4, 2017, accessed December 3, 2017) https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/08/04/the-mystery-of-1000-missing-and-murdered-indigenous-women-in-canada/?utm_term=.c2bb1ebc99b2.
  11. Anna Mehler Paperny. “Transgender people still not counted in Canada’s hate crimes data” Global News ( April 13, 2016, accessed December 3, 2017) https://globalnews.ca/news/2634576/trans-people-still-not-counted-in-canadas-hate-crimes-data/.
  12. Ed Kilgore. “Trump Tax Bill Hammers New York and California” New York Magazine (November 2, 2017, accessed December 3, 2017) http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/11/trump-tax-bill-hammers-new-york-and-california.html.
  13. “Canadian Bacon (1995) Plot” IMDb (accessed December 3, 2017) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0109370/plotsummary.
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